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View Diary: Overnight News Digest -- "The Catholic Church and Beavers" Edition (37 comments)

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  •  Title Of A President's Girlfriend Or Boyfriend? (17+ / 0-)

    In the film 'The American President,' Michael Douglas plays a widowed President who starts dating a lobbyist (Annette Bening), which becomes scandal fodder for his Republican opponents. At one point, Senator Bob Rumson (Richard Dreyfuss) says in an interview:

    "I don't even know what we call her. Is she the First Mistress?"

    The issue of Presidential etiquette towards the spouse is usually discussed with the possibility of a female President. The consensus seems to be that a female President of the United States would be referred to as "Madame President" and her spouse would be the "First Gentleman."

    However, the protocol & titles for a possible Presidential girlfriend/boyfriend is a bit murkier.

    The position of "First Lady" is not a constitutional one. It's a societal one created by tradition. The title became common & accepted for referring to the spouse of the President during the Administration of President Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881), when the media began using the term First Lady for Lucy Webb Hayes. Before that, the title of a President's wife went through more than a few permutations.

    • Lady - Martha Washington is said to have preferred the title of "Lady Washington."
    • Mrs. President - Abigail Adams was referred to as this, and not always in a complimentary way.
    • Mrs. Presidentress - This was the self-created title of Julia Tyler, second wife of John Tyler of "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" fame.

    There have been four Presidents who were single when elected President. Of the list, Buchanan is the only President of the United States who was never married, while the others were widowers upon taking office.
    • Thomas Jefferson
    • Andrew Jackson
    • Martin Van Buren
    • James Buchanan

    Three other Presidents lost wives while in office, with some of them remarrying afterwards:
    • John Tyler
    • Benjamin Harrison
    • Woodrow Wilson
    In such cases, the position of White House Hostess has been filled by a female relative or friend of the president, such as Martha Jefferson Randolph (Thomas Jefferson's daughter) during Jefferson's presidency, Emily Donelson and Sarah Yorke Jackson (niece and daughter-in-law of Andrew Jackson) during Jackson's, Mary Harrison McKee (Benjamin Harrison's daughter) during Harrison's presidency, upon her mother's death, and Harriet Lane (James Buchanan's niece) during Buchanan's.
    Now some of these women were referred to at points as "First Lady." However, all of them pre-date Lucy Webb Hayes and the term coming into its common use. So these examples wouldn't exactly be dispositive for what to do in referring to a President's non-married significant other.

    Also, say the President is dating someone for three months, six months, a year, and during that time the person they're dating performs the functions of First Lady/Gentleman. If after that time, the President breaks up with them, would they be considered a "former First Lady/Gentleman" and be in the same club with Nancy Reagan, Hillary Clinton, and one day Michelle Obama?

    Do they get an official White House portrait?

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